Conroe, December 17 – As part of a flood mitigation and flood buyout grant application that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court will review on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, during its last meeting of the year, Community Development Director Joanne Ducharme will seek a substantial salary increase for herself and two County employees out of the grant funds to administer the program over the two years of the grant application. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, who had located the $8.9 million of funds available through a federal grant program, told The Golden Hammer that he was not aware of Ducharme’s salary request and did not wish to comment on it at this time.
Clark and Ducharme held a lively public hearing on November 29, 2017, where they discussed the grant application and considered citizen input for what, at the time, appeared to be a $3 million grant application. Please see “Clark Working To Bring $3 Million Of Grants To Mitigate Flooding, Drainage Problems,” The Golden Hammer, November 30, 2017.
If Clark is able to bring these grant funds into Montgomery County, it will be a major turning point for two neighborhoods as well as sixty (60) families who will receive buyout funds for their homes that flooded during the April and May, 2016, flooding events in this community.
The flood mitigation projects will cover the Allendale-Greenbough community southwest of the intersection of State Highway 242 and F.M. 1314 and River Oaks Drive near the Town of Woodloch just northeast of the intersection of State Highway 242 and Interstate 45.
As the grant application makes clear, “Input from these groups [the local NAACP, Fair Housing Group and other community organizations] led the county to set aside 40% of funds for housing buyouts and 60% of funds for drainage in residential neighborhoods. Both programs will improve drainage, but buyouts will also mitigate blight and other hazards.”
The backup materials provided to the Commissioners Court and the general public along with the posting for the December 19 Commissioners Court meeting provide none of the financial materials supporting the grant application. The grant application itself is part of the backup made available publicly.
Secret documents from inside the Montgomery County government, however, reveal that Ducharme and two members of her County staff are seeking substantial pay raises during the two years of the grants.
Ducharme will receive $35,000 over the two years. Christopher Leppo will receive $13,000. Autumn Haley will receive $12,000, in addition to benefits. The total additional compensation will be approximately $119,000 for Ducharme, Leppo, and Haley to administer the 60-home buyout program. That is almost $2,000 per home.
The Golden Hammer has spoken with directors of two different County Departments who have indicated a willingness to administer the buyout program for free. Perhaps more significantly, Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Darren Hess has said in the Commissioners Court that his Department will administer the Tropical Storm Harvey buyout program. Therefore, it would seem more economic for Hess and his Emergency Management team to administer the buyout program under this grant application as well.
$119,000 is a lot of money that could go towards the buyout of the home of another family or towards flood mitigation. Commissioner Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack are working to find funds to pay for flood control in Montgomery County, since the cash-rich San Jacinto River Authority, which has a statutory duty “to provide flood control” has refused to meet its statutory obligations.